Musician, producer and DJ François Simard, the former founding member of Montréal soul collective Skyjuice, gave himself the alias Franky Selector at the turn of the millennium and recently launched Shabby Chic. “It’s all in the title. It’s chic, but a little shabby too.”
In between the release of two albums under that name (a six-year timespan), our man was far from idle: he re-mixed Montréal’s funk-soul collective The Brooks, was a frequent collaborator of James Di Salvio and Stéphane Moraille (Bran Van 3000), The National Parks, Fwonte and Fred Everything, and he was the official DJ for the U.S. college circuit concerts of favourite cult jam-band Phish, which saw him drop his infectious grooves for tens of thousands of fans after each of the group’s stadium and festival shows.
Simard is really into the golden era of FM radio, the whole decade of the early seventies to the early eighties, which happens to be the time he grew up while living in Florida. “Kool and the Gang, and people roller skating with a ghetto blaster,” he recalls. “What I heard then still sounds more authentic to me than today’s music.”
The 13 tracks on Shabby Chic breeze by effortlessly, full of references to that holy decade: Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken word, Isaac Hayes’ soul, horns a-plenty, and a refreshing dose of Caribbean vibes. “I love everything Chris Blackwell produced on his Island Records label,” says Simard. “Bob Marley, Toots and The Maytals, etc.”.
His maternal Lebanese roots can also be heard on “Shoo Fi Ma,” a spoken-word piece. “It’s going to be increasingly present in my music,” he says, laughing, “because I can feel the call of the Orient.” Unless one has a heart of stone, his music feels like an elixir of emotion, love, sensuality, and much more.
“I base a lot of it all on atmospheres and subtlety, and an omnipresent groove. There’s a constant undulation. It’s like the ocean.”
“I base a lot of it all on atmospheres and subtlety, and an omnipresent groove. There’s a constant undulation. It’s like the ocean,” says Selector. “You can dance to my music, but you don’t absolutely have to.”
To get there, one needs the proper tools. “I always work with vintage equipment and record in analogue mode,” he says. “I’m for sure nostalgic, but my music is not an ersatz of that era.”
The usual keyboard suspects – Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, Wurlitzer, Clavinet – all appear, one after the other, in his musical pleasure dome. “You can’t fake those sounds, they have to come from the real McCoy,” he says. “I also work with computers. It’s the union of two processes, two techniques.”
Relying only on his own resources, he rented a studio in Old Montréal to set up his lab, his creative lair, and went there virtually every day while creating Shabby Chic. “I punched in, as if I was working in a plant,” he says. “It went something like this: I’d start with a beat, lay down a chord progression, and record. There are a lot of instruments, and that allowed me to work solo on my demos, beats, and sonic experiments I’d come up with between shows on my previous tour [in the wake of his previous album, Under the Midnight Sun, in 2011].”
The next step was to orchestrate everything in the company of a flock of musicians who, one by one, left their imprints on tracks that were now ready to be assembled. Simard would then don his producer hat to achieve the difficult balance between the heart and the mind. Says Selector: “I make all the decisions, ever since I realized [with Skyjuice in the ’90s] that democracy is all fine and good in a collective of 10 musicians, but at a certain point, it really dilutes the vision and direction of a project.”
But the ultimate step is concerts, driven by a resolve to take his project to the next level, accompanied by eight to 10 musicians – led by keyboard Master Dan Thouin, a man revered in the Québec music community. “I’m from the live school,” says Selector. “People who come to see us shouldn’t expect to hear exactly what they’ve heard on the album. It really evolves onstage!”